JUMP at 25 - John's 2015 interview with Mike Ainscoe
Origins of Jump – did they exist before you moved down south and auditioned?
Only in as much as five of them had got together to start a new project. Steve, Mo and Andy were in a band together and they knew Pete through the Wycombe music scene... Pete knew Hughie and so they got together and developed some ideas. (...what became The Lightbox and The Mystic).
I answered their ad which was for a 'frontman - no beginners' and spoke to Steve on the phone. When I heard the demos I connected with the ideas straight away. My audition involved singing along to a mono tape deck whilst they all sat there looking terribly serious.
After some non-committal nods I then went into an old wooden shack at the back of the Flint Cottage Pub in Wycombe and did the stuff I'd added through a PA. They all shrugged and I got the job.
Over the next couple of weeks, I brought a couple of my tunes to the fray (Johnny And The Lightning and the first part of Cruel To Be Kind) and we knocked together half an hour of stuff. Our first gig was supporting the legendary Les Payne at The Pegasus in Marlow Bottom. We agreed before the gig that if it felt like the audience wasn't bothered, we'd shake hands on it and go our separate ways. I guess they liked it.
There's clearly a strong bond between the personnel and you've stuck together with seemingly no animosity when there have been changes?
Yeah we get on fine. We made it standard practice from the outset that when we're working anything goes... there are no holds barred and it's very much a hothouse environment where we trade ideas, relentlessly take the mickey and give scant regard to people's precious feelings. Then we close the door of the rehearsal room behind us and leave it all there. We've never lived in each other's pockets socially but we do know each other very well... a pretty good balance.
The few personnel changes in the band have happened for different reasons... life has its habit of throwing in twists of fate and as a band, you either deal with them or you move on. We said farewell and moved on.
Would you say you're a bit of a genre-hopping band? You're often painted with the prog brush and politely decline any prog labelling...
Well we don't purposely set out to genre-hop, any more than we'd seek to slavishly construct a template for a lifetime of Ferrari-driving success. We get in that room together and we cook it all up. We've played and listened to a hell of a lot of music between us and that takes in everything from rock to country to folk, prog, blues, metal and every mezze in between so it's bound to have a pretty broad spectrum.
I've said it before (forgive me) but if being 'prog' is about some golden rules that can never be broken... then nope... but if progressive means exploring how the different things you've absorbed and the different ideas you have, meld together into something that people find interesting then... yep. So I wouldn't say we decline the label... more we leave it up to the expert arbiters of 'what is prog' to take before their high priests... we might be banished to forever wander at the fringes of Prog-land but that's OK... Progland is a fair and bounteous place but it isn't the only imaginary genre state in the world is it?!
Do you ever take time to look back and re-evaluate the catalogue or have a listen through some of the material you've put together over the years? 13 albums plus a couple of live... quite a few tunes in there.
Yes. Personally I love the stuff. I've spent half my life contributing to its creation and each listen is to close my eyes and 'feel' that time, that energy and whatever vibe was around. It's also a pretty handy social history reference catalogue if anyone cares to explore it. We could sit here for hours whilst I regaled you (like Alfie might) with what it's all about! I was walking down the road today listening to Faithful, Faithless... loved it... made me want to play those songs again.
I wanted to talk about the famous Jones banter... as much a part of the live experience as the music, not quite sure if to ask about it as a question or just give you a prompt!
Oh I'm not sure it's quite as much a part of the live experience as the music but it does go on. (... and on... some might say) What can I tell you? If you've decided to form a band and go and play the songs you've written to an audience, it's always struck me that you might want to have something to say by way of enlightening accompaniment.
When we were playing 100 gigs a year in all manner of dives I refused to give in to being reduced to burbling away in the corner, so I tried to grab attention. Absolutely none of it is planned... whether it's describing sitting in the wrong seats in Trowell Services or some historical background to The Sniper, it's off the cuff and fed by the audience's patience (or lack of patience!) Every gig has to be different for me... if people have only ever seen one JUMP gig it'll have been markedly different from all the others... whether from the improvisation on stage, the stories, a shared moment with a heckler... People pay to see us. Give them a show.
Lyrics – what provides the inspiration – what gives you the muse?
Anything and everything. If I had to generalise, then I'd say I tend towards a narrative style and this has probably come to the fore even more in later years. People like stories, imagined and real. All the dramatic arts tend to reflect that don't they? So the muse can come from the mundane events I witness on a daily basis - a young couple arguing, an old lady on a bus, what's on TV... it comes from information and research - my interest in who and where I came from... and you might say it also comes from broader observations about the way events in the wider world affect the lives of 'ordinary' people.
And in terms of writing, how does the band work (music first – fitting a lyric – start with a melody of a phrase – a lyrical idea for which you need a certain musical mood...?) and has it changed over time at all?
There is no particular method. Over the years we've done it in all the ways you suggest and more. Sometimes someone turns up with a complete song structure that they've been working on at home, sometimes just a fragment to be expanded upon. Sometimes I'll turn up with a poem or a first line or a title or a fully developed song that gets pushed and pulled all over the place. Sometimes we just point at Andy (our drummer) and say 'play'. Everyone in the band contributes to the process, everyone's ideas are considered... but once something catches alight, we work at a fair rate of knots and it's a very hot-housed process. Every band is different and achieves their aims in the way they're most comfortable with.
One of our principles seems to be that if something is exciting we want to retain that excitement during the assembling of a piece. In this way, I suppose, the album versions of the songs are very much moments in time rather than absolutely definitive... the live versions then vary and sometimes grow. Recently we've been playing a version of the Pressed Man that is a long, long way from the original approach but gives us a huge buzz, twenty years after the original. As you know we also perform a lot of stripped down acoustic shows... and the songs still find favour in that format.
You've always referenced your heritage and background but are they becoming more personal or reflective as you get older – 'squaring off the circle' – a phrase used quite a bit at the CRS awards gig?
Oh there's no getting away from it, the seemingly accelerated passing of time as one gets older has a profound impact on the need to reflect and make sense of ones place in the world. I'm not the first person in my family to sing in front of people but I am the first who will get to leave behind recorded testimony that, on the odd occasion, commemorates and describes them. For me that's a huge privilege.
Next month we're playing in a hall in Bethesda where my Taid, my grandfather, sang back in the 1920s. That has a certain resonance for me... it maintains my place in a cultural tradition that's very important to me... (maybe it's a Welsh thing!) but the shared experience of the band and the audience is always the most important thing. In the end it's not a sentimental journey to self-fulfilment as much as it is offering up an honest and heartfelt performance that strikes a chord with as many people as possible...
The catalogue has led to the Black Pilgrim and a format which seems perfect for Jump?
Well amongst the electric guitars and the riffs and power, there's always been that acoustic side. It's cropped up in isolation from album to album but when we were briefly reduced to a five piece with Phil Mayhew's departure we took a conscious decision to sit down and immerse ourselves in that side of things. We'd always stripped down songs for the trio gigs and now we found ourselves developing bigger ideas but keeping them in the acoustic format. Mo is an accomplished accordion player and we didn't hesitate to bring that in. When it came to recording Ronnie took on the bass parts as well as his guitar and we created what I think is a fine and very representative piece of work.
We've realised that all the formats work, live and on record... so now how we appear is determined by the suitability of the occasion. We love that. We've had some great six-piece acoustic evenings, real magical nights... and then next time out we're up there hammering away like rock gods... well... ok... mere rock mortals! So The Black Pilgrim is as much JUMP as The Beachcomber.
In the absence of a multi CD set of rarities, outtakes and live cuts plus accompanying DVD of archive footage, what's next for Jump?
More gigs obviously. We're not playing anywhere near as many as we once did, but that live element is essential to our being... and then there's recording. We have grand plans and fans will be able to hear the fruits of our studio labours very soon. We have no plans to rest on laurels, beaches or anywhere else. 25 years has flown by... we'll just keep on, keeping on and see what happens... it's too late to stop!